Montreal public health authorities have sounded the alarm twice in one month, following an increase in drug overdoses.
The coronavirus pandemic has caused a drug shortage and a tainted supply of purple heroin heavily laced with fentanyl. The first public health notice was issued on June 12 and the second on July 2, all in an effort to curb the number of accidental deaths, overdoses and fentanyl addiction.
“We found out that we had a lot more overdoses related to heroin in Montreal so we sent a second alert,” said Montreal public health’s Dr. Carole Morissette.
“We needed to reinforce the use of nalaxone and reinforce the use of naloxone with the new protocol in the context of COVID-19.”
Urgences Santé paramedics have administered naloxone 73 times since July 1. Montreal firefighters used it 20 times in 2019, according to the union. But unlike police forces in large cities across the country, Montreal police are not trained or equipped to administer naloxone.
“If it’s a question of training, let’s get them trained. If it’s a question of accessibility to the kits, the government of Quebec said it would ensure that those kits are available,” said city councillor Marvin Rotrand.
“So I don’t understand why we have this shocking news today.”
The news came after the head of one of Montreal’s four safe injection sites spoke out on Monday about the lack of action in the face of a surging crisis.
“Why is the police of Montreal not equipped with naloxone when it’s most of the overdose deaths in Quebec?” said Jean-Francois Mary, executive director of CACTUS Montreal.
“Other police forces in Quebec have naloxone. In Quebec City they have naloxone. Why not Montreal?”
Rotrand claims most city councillors were under the impression officers were already carrying the antidote.
“The police department in Vancouver started using it in 2017 and it’s been the rule right across Ontario since 2018,” said Rotrand.
“I don’t know, maybe it’s the police union that’s complaining about this. I don’t know where the pushback is coming from.”
The Montreal Police Brotherhood refused to comment on the issue, referring the question to Montreal police
In a statement to Global News Montreal, the SPVM said plans to train officers were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic since there were safety concerns surrounding the intra-nasal form of the antidote, later adding that all officers should be equipped starting early this fall.
Montreal public health’s medical director is confident police officers will soon be on board and hopes more people will call for help as soon as they suspect an overdose.
“The main message is not to use alone, having always someone there,” said Morissette.
“Calling 9-1-1 is very important because sometimes it takes a lot of doses in order to reverse the overdose.”